As the festive season looms the question every parent of teens dreads is, "Can if I have a party?" Of course even worse is not asking, so you come home one day and find your house trashed.
Even the most responsible teens can find themselves out of their depth when parties go wrong. I heard tales from my own teens of kitchen units being ripped off walls and toilet bowls being cracked. This was in addition to the vomit, drink, and cigarette burns on the carpet, not to mention the parent's bedroom being well, should we say "used". Actually, this doesn't sound that different to parties I used to go to as a teen, but now as a parent it's a case of "Not in my house!"
Call me a wuss, but I never took the risk: the most I allowed was a gathering of hand-picked close friends. We didn't stay away overnight and, on the advice of my kids, the few valuable ornaments I possessed were locked away, as were bottles of single malt. Rather intriguingly, all that was missing when I came home was most of the fruit, and the carrots in the fridge.
It's hard: no parent wants to be a party-pooper, you want your children to be sociable, but how do you stop parties getting out of control?
Like many aspects of parenting, it's the drip-drip approach over many years which has some impact. Communicating with your children about what happens at parties and making your own expectations clear sets the scene.
If you do decide to allow a party, establish the ground rules. It is rarely a good idea to stay away overnight. If your teens know that at some point Mum or Dad is going to show up, it does have a restraining influence.
You can be vague and tell them that you'll be back sometime after midnight, without saying precisely when. Similarly, if the guests are being collected by a parent, agree a time with them beforehand.
What your teens should not do is use social media to broadcast the party. Keep it off Facebook, instant messaging, Twitter and anywhere else. Most of the problems that parents have experienced have been a result of uninvited gate crashers.
Imagine the scenario: your 16-year-old daughter is in the kitchen, the doorbell rings, someone answers it and in walk half a dozen 18-year-olds, who then text their friends about this great party....
So try to ensure you know who is coming and put a limit on numbers; a couple extra is fine, but not a hundred.
Accept that accidents can happen, no matter how civilised the party. Put away anything valuable or which has sentimental value. If you have locks on rooms that you prefer to be out of bounds, use them and if not, tell your kids that certain rooms are strictly out of bounds.
What about alcohol? Parents have wildly differing views on this. My teens went to parties where parents provided a set number of drinks for each teen - such as two pints or the equivalent. Others banned alcohol altogether and provided soft drinks.
Of course there is nothing you can do to avoid alcohol being brought into the party, but some of that responsibility lies with other parents so you can always say what you expect. In either case, lock away your own booze. Leaving bottles of spirits on the sideboard is simply asking for trouble. Given that some alcohol will probably be drunk, leave some food around to help soak it up.
It's always worth telling your neighbours what is happening: there is bound to be more noise than usual, even if it's just parents turning up to collect, so it's courteous to let neighbours know. Depending on the circumstances, make your teen aware of the implications of loud music after a certain time unless you want the police turning up!
You may not be in the house, but you should be contactable in case there are any emergencies, so keep your mobile on. You can also agree with another parent or neighbour that they will be a back up.
How you handle the party dilemma rests on the maturity of your teen - a 14-year-old is more vulnerable than an 18-year-old - and how well you know their friends.
The general consensus seems to be that if you establish trust with your teen along with some sensible precautions, all will go smoothly. But the reason that parties tend to go badly wrong is not down to the host, but to gate crashers and too much alcohol. So don't be afraid to set clear boundaries – it as, after all, your home. Cheers!
Have you had a teen party at your home? How did it go?
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